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June 23, 2001

Mother chased down oldest son before drowning him, report says

Woman 'zombie-like' in recounting deaths of her five children

C. Bryson Hull
National Post

Richard Carson, Reuters
Andrea Yates leaves a court appearance yesterday after being told a lawyer will be appointed for her.

HOUSTON - A Texas mother who confessed to killing her five children was assigned a court-appointed lawyer yesterday, after reportedly telling investigators she drowned her kids one by one and had to chase her frightened eldest son to finish the job.

Andrea Yates, 36, appeared briefly in court yesterday, wearing an orange jumpsuit and with her arms folded. She said she could not afford a lawyer. State District Judge Belinda Hill told her a lawyer would be appointed for her.

Judge Hill postponed the hearing to an undetermined date so Mrs. Yates, who is being held without bail and facing a charge that could bring her the death penalty, would have time to consult with her lawyer.

Mrs. Yates said she killed her children on Wednesday, making her heart-rending confession to police just moments after the oldest of her five children was drowned.

A report in Friday's Houston Chronicle said Mrs. Yates drowned her youngest children one by one in a bathtub, but had to chase her frightened oldest son through the house and drag him to the bathroom after he saw what she was doing.

"This is the most horrendous thing I have ever seen," Harris County Assistant District Attorney Joe Owmby said after the hearing.

Mr. Owmby declined to say whether prosecutors would seek the death penalty, which under Texas law is the maximum punishment for capital murder.

Mrs. Yates' court-appointed lawyer, Bob Scott, was to meet with his client at the Harris County Jail yesterday.

After reviewing the police file and discussing the case with investigators, Mr. Owmby said prosecutors would call a grand jury to indict Mrs. Yates. He would not, however, discuss details of the killings in the Chronicle's report.

The newspaper, citing an unnamed police officer who had seen Mrs. Yates' videotaped statement to investigators, said the mother and former registered nurse recounted the events in a "zombie-like fashion."

"What's wrong with Mary?" seven-year-old Noah Yates asked his mother when he saw her placing six-month-old Mary in the tub.

Mrs. Yates said her son ran from her, but she chased him through the house, dragged him back to the bathroom and drowned him alongside his infant sister, the report said.

Before that, Mrs. Yates said she killed, in order, Luke, 2, Paul, 3, and John, 5. After each child was drowned, she carried their bodies to a bed and covered them with a sheet, where police said all but one body, Noah's, was found.

She left Noah in the tub before calling police and her husband, Russell Yates, who was at his job as a computer engineer at the nearby Johnson Space Center.

The Harris County Medical Examiner's Office ruled on Thursday night that the children died of asphyxia from drowning.

No motive for the killings was reported, but Russell Yates on Thursday blamed the tragedy on his wife's severe case of postpartum depression, for which she had been taking medication.

Mrs. Yates was a registered nurse who quit work in 1994 to raise her family, the Chronicle said. Her husband and other family members described her as a "kind and gentle person" who loved her children and was home-schooling them.

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